I titled my critique of Massimo Pigliucci’s complaint about the New Atheists with a Firefly quote — “We’re meddlesome” — so I might as well keep it up. There’s much in that series to illuminate my personal view of atheism, specifically, the elements that seem to antagonize people like Pigliucci and Stedman and Mooney and great swarms of other more accommodating people. First, I ought to point out the obvious: contrary to the defenders of tone, I don’t mind pissing people off.
Mal: Gotta say, Doctor, your talent for alienatin’ folks is near miraculous.
Simon: Yes, I’m very proud.
We often get this insistence from the accommodationists that the only way to win people over is to be nice to them — atheists should try to be good citizens who get along with everyone. A related point they will make is that atheists don’t have a real problem with discrimination, because they look just like everyone else and can blend in, and if we aren’t rocking the boat no one will have any grounds to oppose us.
I really, really despise that argument. I don’t want my community to accept my presence because they have me confused with an Episcopalian, or because I’m one of those good atheists who don’t raise no ruckus, no sir, and so they can tolerate me because I’m invisible. I intend to be loud; I will leave no doubt that I disbelieve and am disagreeable about it. I am not the one who needs to learn a lesson in tolerance, the smug, oblivious Christians are, and the only way I can give it is if I’m standing up and challenging them.
So when people, atheists and theists alike, complain that I’m obnoxious, I feel good about it. There’s the fact that most of the people doing the complaining are not the sort I have much respect for, so I take pleasure in pissing them off, but also that I’m fulfilling my responsibilities. I make people aware that where I stand, there stands an atheist, and not some simpering milquetoast making apologies for his temerity in disrespecting religion, but someone who is proud of his beliefs.
Badger: You think you’re better than other people!
Mal: Just the ones I’m better than.
Pigliucci complained about the arrogance of some atheists who think all believers are dumb, which is a common complaint, and one you hear from believers as well. But they’re wrong: I don’t think I’m smarter than everyone else.
I just think I’m right.
That’s important. Atheists should have a feeling of unrepentant confidence — we are on the right side of reason, the right side of history, and the right side of the evidence. It’s not because I think I have some intrinsically greater worth than others at all, but I have shed some delusions and freed myself of traditional dogma, and have also worked most of my life to alleviate my ignorance. Other people could benefit from similar enlightenment.
And anyone who’s bothered by my cockiness should have a little more self-awareness: we all think we’re right, or we wouldn’t be doing what we do.
Jayne: Shiny. Let’s be bad guys.
Yeah, the faitheists and believers think I’m a bad guy, for the reasons above (and I’m OK with that). My other sin, though, is that I encourage other atheists to join me, I reinforce my kind of rudeness in a large group of people, and I do that community building stuff. I foster my tribe. We grow stronger and louder and bolder, we are all bad guys together.
Of course, the kind of bad guys we are are the ones encouraged by Carl Sagan: the critics of mysticism and foolishness who do not sit silent when a god-botherer says something stupid. We misbehave because it’s about damn time someone did.
“…if we offer too much silent assent about mysticism and superstition ‐ even when it seems to be doing a little good ‐ we abet a general climate in which skepticism is considered impolite, science tiresome, and rigorous thinking somehow stuffy and inappropriate. Figuring out a prudent balance takes wisdom.”
That’s us. No silence. We fight the idea that skepticism might be impolite by being impolite all the time, making the questioning of dogma commonplace and frequent. After all, why should it be considered so awful for a horde of atheists to point out that Christianity or Islam or Judaism or Hinduism are ridiculous? The are ridiculous and are going to get ridiculed.
Here’s something else I think atheists should be:
The Operative: Do you know what your sin is, Mal?
Mal: Aw, hell, I’m a fan of all seven. But right now, I’m gonna have to go with wrath.
I see priests raping children. I see a publicity-seeking nun praising pain and suffering, poverty and sickness. I see politicians pandering for votes by demanding the persecution of gays in the name of Jesus. I see godly men declaring that the role of women is to be silent and subservient…and brood a quiverful of children. I see fanatics strapping explosives to their bodies and killing randomly in the name of their god. I see lobbyists hard at work, trying to dilute science education, and suggesting that we teach the Flintstones as fact in our biology classes. I see a pope in fancy silks and gold-bedecked palace urging people to shun materialism and savor the simple life. I see deluded people opposing work to alleviate climate change because they’re sure God wouldn’t let it happen. I see ordinary people certain that these are the End Times, rejoicing in our imagined imminent apocalypse, and actively working to bring it about.
If you aren’t angry, there’s something wrong with you.
Religion is not some mild happy recreational activity; it is a poison of the brain that taints the vast majority of humanity. It is bad shit. I will not support it in any way, and I resent the complacent schmoes who urge us to close our eyes to it. One the one hand, we’ve got the moderate academic types who like to tell us it’s mostly harmless and we’ll never be able to get rid of it, anyway; to them I’d say that, as people who are supposedly dedicated to learning the truth, you ought to be the first to deny religion because a) it’s wrong, and b) it’s a fallacious way of learning about the world. On the other hand, we’ve got the happy progressives who want us all to do interfaith work, and tell us that the fundies might be bad, but we share common cause with liberal Christians; to them I say that a mind addled by liberal opium is just as faulty as one fired up on conservative crack.
I know that we can never get rid of religion, because there will always be people willing to lie for gain, and there will always be gullible people willing to believe them. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t hate the lie of faith consistently and without apology. There are principles an atheist should stand for, and one should be that god-belief is bullshit.
No compromises on that. Wrath will be my response to those suggesting otherwise.
Zoe: Where are we going, sir?
Mal: The same as always. Forward.
No sitting still. Keep going, keep pushing, keep agitating. We may have to change course now and then, but the engines should always be running, we should always be plowing on ahead.